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Review: The Emoji Movie (2017)

The Emoji Movie (2017)

Directed by: Tony Leondis

Premise: Within a teenager’s cell phone is an entire world of emojis, computer viruses, and programs. A “meh” emoji (voice of T.J. Miller) is frustrated with the limits of his life and he sets out on an adventure through the phone.

What Works: The Emoji Movie is primarily a kid’s film. This picture is intended to be viewed by the younger crowd, not by their parents or even their older siblings, and the film is fast and shiny enough to be an adequate diversion. There is a story here, one that is familiar to anyone who has seen an animated movie in the past twenty years, and it is generally coherent. There’s nothing in The Emoji Movie that parents have to worry about exposing their children to and it ought to hold young viewer’s attention for its modest eighty-six minute running time.

What Doesn’t: The Emoji Movie is one of those pictures that has to be understood primarily as an industrial product. This is a piece of merchandise produced by the motion picture division (Columbia Pictures) of an electronics company (Sony) that produces cell phones and video games. This film exists to generate interest and increase the visibility of the parent company’s other products. The Emoji Movie is not the first feature film like this but it might be the most unimaginative. A motion picture about emoticons did not necessarily have to be an artless endeavor. The Lego Movie and its Batman spinoff were terrific and similar concepts have been carried out successfully in pictures like Wreck-It Ralph and Toy Story. Even The Angry Birds Movie managed to create some compelling stakes. The Emoji Movie doesn’t bring anything interesting or thoughtful to its premise. This is a missed opportunity. Cell phones have become so ubiquitous and online lingo has become so ingratiated into our everyday lives that this film could be highly satirical or at least clever. It isn’t. The filmmakers of The Emoji Movie don’t have any fun with the possibilities of their premise. Instead, they are content to apply a generic storyline. The lead character is ostracized from his community because he is different, spurring him on a quest in which he discovers that the quality that made him odd is what saves the day. It’s a familiar boiler plate and the filmmakers work through it without any surprises. At the very least The Emoji Movie ought to deliver on the tried and true appeals of its ugly duckling scenario but nothing in it is ever engaging or meaningful. The characters don’t have anything to them and they range between banal and obnoxious. Adhering to a storytelling formula might be acceptable if the movie possessed some visual flair but the visual style of The Emoji Movie is as flaccid as its storytelling. The filmmakers take the least imaginative path and as is usual, Sony Pictures Animation is not competitive with the work of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation and Laika Entertainment. The animation of The Emoji Movie is the quality of a television commercial. It’s one thing to do that in an advert or even in a Saturday morning cartoon but such laziness is just not acceptable in a theatrical release. The film’s lack of ambition may be rooted in its absence of an audience. Everything about The Emoji Movie suggests that it is intended for children. The humor, the storytelling, and the visual style are geared toward pre-teen viewers. But small children are the one segment of the population that doesn’t own cell phones (at least not in abundance). Viewers who do possess a cell phone and who use emoticons—which would primarily be teenagers—will find The Emoji Movie to be too childish and too lame to hold their interest.

Bottom Line: The Emoji Movie satisfies the most barebones expectations. There’s nothing in it that is awful but there’s nothing in it that’s good either. It’s a lazy production that wasn’t made for anyone.

Episode: #660 (August 13, 2017)